Monday, July 22, 2024

NCDOT’s flood-warning system up for national award, $10K for charity

Stream gauges monitor the level of water to inform NCDOT staff when it’s rising and could lead to flooding on the roadways. (Courtesy NCDOT)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The state transportation agency’s innovative technology to track flooding is up for national recognition.

READ MORE: NCDOT upping hurricane preparedness with new system to track flooded roads

The North Carolina Department of Transportation launched its statewide advance flood-warning system in May 2022 to help staff better prepare for, respond to and recover more quickly from storms dropping water on roadways.

The system is up for one of two top prizes from the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials’ 2023 America’s Transportation Awards.

NCDOT is in the top 12 and could earn the grand prize or people’s choice award. Both come with a $10,000 reward to be donated to a charity of the winner’s choosing. NCDOT has not yet decided which organization to support if it wins but spokesperson Andrew Barksdale said the agency will pick one that impacts the entire state.

A nationwide panel of experts will decide on the grand prize winner, but the people’s choice vote is open to the public.

Individuals can cast a ballot through Nov. 14 here.

The three-part flood warning system comprises flood inundation mapping, BridgeWatch and Transportation Surge Analysis Predictive Program. They are used collaboratively by staff internally to monitor more than 500 river and stream gauges, more than 15,000 bridges and culverts, and more than 2,000 miles of state-owned roads.

Barksdale said the program is probably the largest of its kind in the country.

In the tri-county region, there are 300 bridges and culverts and 221 road miles — including major highways such as I-40 — covered by the system, which predicts flooding before and up to a hurricane or major weather event.

The program was launched with $2 million from the North Carolina General Assembly following Hurricane Florence. Research has been ongoing since 2019. When the governor asked NCDOT during the 2018 hurricane which roads and bridges would be flooded, staff didn’t know. They had to wait and find out in real-time before addressing compromised areas.

Now staff receives data and information on rising waters or damaged bridges prior to them being a problem. Crews can arrive on site to close the roadway before it turns into a public safety hazard. Alerts are sent out to staff 24/7.

While the data is not publicly accessible, NCDOT uses it to update, which informs travelers of problem areas.

“The system has to ability to save lives,” Barksdale said. “We can prepare better and respond faster.”

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